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Today in the House

January 6, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Today was the 111th Congress’ big first day. The Senate and House convened, the Speaker of the House was elected, Vice President Dick Cheney swore in the new senators, members of the House took the oath of office. It was all very sweet.

Curious individuals who want to find out more about Congress’ first day would probably check the Library of Congress’ thomas.gov website, the first place on the web to receive data about congressional activity. They would probably click on the On the House Floor Now link, and if they do, they’ll get to this page:

So, as you can see, the House did some other stuff today, too. It appears that besides swearing in new members, they also agreed to 10 or so resolutions. Clicking through to see what some of those resolutions are – say, H. Res. 12, you get to this page:

…Ok. Now, finally, clicking through to see the bill text (just because we’re curious) we get to this lovely page:

Very interesting! Glad I allowed myself to engage my curiosity!

I know that these resolutions are mostly minor – looking at the low-numbered House resolutions from last session you can see that they do stuff like inform the Senate that a quorum of the House has assembled, and authorize the Clerk to inform the President of the election of the Speaker and the Clerk. But some are important. H. Res. 5, for example, makes some controversial changes to the standing rules of the House (more on that here).

I know it’s their first day in session and things are just starting to get up and running, but this actually happens throughout the session. Bills are often brought to the floor for voting before they are made available to the public online. There are proposals pending in Congress to do things like “require that legislation and conference reports be available on the Internet for 72 hours before consideration by the House.” That might help. There are also these Open Government Data Principles that Congress could abide by to make legislative data more accessible.

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